Justice Samuel Alito said Sunday that he “was not surprised” at the backlash he faced for saying in a speech for the Federalist Society that COVID-19 lockdowns are a “constitutional stress test” that have curbed American liberty to a degree “previously unimaginable.”
In a statement published in USA Today on the 15th anniversary of his confirmation to the Supreme Court under former President George W. Bush, Alito said, “Virtually every substantive point in the Federalist Society speech was taken from one of my published opinions or an opinion I joined.”
Alito, who predicted that his comments in the September speech would be “twisted,” added, “I was not surprised by the reaction.”
As The Daily Wire reported of his speech last fall:
Justice Samuel Alito characterized lingering local and state coronavirus lockdowns Thursday as a “constitutional stress test” that are placing restrictions on liberty that were “previously unimaginable.”
“We have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged,” Alito said in a virtual speech to The Federalist Society, according to The Associated Press. He added that the lockdowns have introduced “previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty.”
Stressing his belief that the coronavirus is a real public health emergency, Alito went on to emphasize that the lockdowns are testing the limits of constitutional freedoms and bringing to the surface trends that have been percolating long before the pandemic. Alito warned that such measures must be kept from becoming a “recurring feature after the pandemic has passed.”
“The COVID crisis has served as a sort of constitutional stress test, and in doing so it has highlighted disturbing trends that were already present before the virus struck,” Alito said.
“It pains me to say this,” he said, “but in certain quarters, religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavored right.” He brought up the case that came before the court in July regarding a church in Nevada that was seeking relief regarding the state’s lockdown orders on houses of worship.
Alito, who has erred on the side of religious liberty in cases that houses of worship have brought to the high court during the pandemic, was met with intense criticism for his comments, including from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who called him a political hack.
Supreme Court Justices aren't supposed to be political hacks. This right-wing speech is nakedly partisan. My bill to #EndCorruptionNow restores some integrity to our Court by forcing Justices to follow the ethics rules other federal judges follow. https://t.co/VAjFAqGesN
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) November 13, 2020
Adam Ciongoli, a former law clerk to Alito, told USA Today, “He’s not afraid to be alone on things. Justice Alito is a shy person but he does not shy from controversy because, in my experience, he has a very clear sense of what his role is and what is right and wrong.”
“I don’t see him changing,” Ciongoli continued. “What I do see is the landscape of the debate shifting in a way that very interestingly puts his philosophy and his personality and orientation as a figure in the middle of that debate.”